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Amherst schools seeking firm to design addition, new auditorium at high school
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Amherst schools seeking firm to design addition, new auditorium at high school

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Amherst County Public Schools is advertising a Request for Proposal to hire an architectural and engineering firm to design construction of a new auditorium at Amherst County High School and renovation of the cafeteria and current auditorium.

The firm will provide cost estimates for the project. In order to meet an ever tightening timeline, the RFP’s advertisement began July 16, according to Assistant Superintendent William Wells. The Amherst County School Board voted during its July 15 meeting to proceed with the advertisement.

ACPS has received notification it will get $7.3 million under the American Rescue Plan Act, a federal stimulus package to help the division sustain safe operation of schools and address the effects of COVID-19 in areas of students’ academic, social emotional and mental health needs. Of that money, 20% will address the academic impact of lost instructional time or learning loss, according to division documents.

The division aims to use the other 80%, about $5.5 million, for the high school addition, Wells said.

“This auditorium project will be a large portion of how we spend that money,” Wells said.

Under provisions of an Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) grant, all construction would need to be completed by Sept. 30, 2024.

“This stipulation constricts our timeline for the project and requires us to begin initiating the process at an increased pace,” Wells wrote in a memo to the board.

A committee consisting of school and Amherst County officials recommends the division move forward with the project and seeking the grant.

ACPS officials will seek input from local stakeholders and the Amherst community as it proceeds with plans. Wells said the division also may seek to use money in the capital improvement projects fund to help cover costs.

A design phase could take 8 to 10 months and the bid for construction could come next summer, according to a timeline Wells provided the board.

A final plan is expected to be chosen in the July 2022 timeframe, he said. It should go to bid next year and the project is anticipated to stretch into 2024, according to the timeline.

The construction phase could take 16 to 18 months and the addition could be occupied by 2024, the timeline states.

A new auditorium, which several board members have said is much needed and long overdue, is targeted to have 1,400 seats and would hold about 470 students with social distancing for standardized testing, assemblies and presentations, according to a written plan for using the federal stimulus money.

A new commons and dining area for 400 would seat 180 students when social distancing, and a food court would replace current serving lines and provide more space for students, the plan states. A collaborative learning lab could make up a large portion of the existing cafeteria and permit four to five classes without restrictions on participants and three classes in one space with restrictions.

The existing auditorium would be converted into a black box theater that could hold about 100 students when social distancing, as well as an additional classroom and testing site, according to the plan.

The board discussed limited space currently at the high school for career and technical education (CTE) offerings and provide space so more students can participate. Cosmetology and agricultural sciences are two programs the board discussed for part of the addition.

Superintendent Rob Arnold said if new programs are added, the board would have to find funding for costs outside the scope of whatever the price tag is for the construction project, including new employees.

“We, as a school system, will have a recurring cost and that’s in people and equipment,” Arnold said of adding courses.

Another benefit of a larger auditorium, according to officials, is more space for community events.

Wells showed the board a document from May 1997 that shows the new auditorium has been on the division’s CIP for the past two-dozen years.

“We have a chance to make it happen,” Wells said.

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